Rovers Extend Lead With Home Win
Raith Rovers made it three league wins in a week with a hard-fought 2-1 win against Airdrie at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
Rovers welcomed back Kyle Benedictus to the starting eleven following a lengthy injury.
Barry Smith had predicted a close match, and the Rovers boss would have been disappointed with a first half in which the visitors largely dominated possession, and looked dangerous with regular forays towards an at times uncertain Rovers rearguard. The Diamonds, of course, are a much changed side since the acquisition of seven new players in January, and with only one defeat in their last nine league games, Stephen Findlay’s men arrived in Kirkcaldy full of confidence and backed by a boisterous travelling support housed in the main stand.
Rovers forward Willis Furtado looked eager to impress against his former side, and he was heavily involved in the opening moments, much to the irritation of the away fans.
For the most part, however, it was Airdrie on the front foot, and they pushed forward in numbers, making it difficult for Rovers to develop any fluency or cohesion to their play.
Poor passing and an inability to clear their lines made for uncomfortable viewing for the home fans in the south stand, and Airdrie visibly grew in confidence as the match progressed.
With 10 minutes played, Rovers keeper Aaron Lennox, whose busy first half would ultimately earn him the man of the match award, produced a smart save to push a rasping Darryl Duffy free-kick round the post. Moments later, Tom Fry lashed a shot narrowly wide of the target as Rovers, toiling to cope with their opponents’ energy, struggled to retain possession.
Players from both sides were snapping into tackles in midfield, though Fry’s crude challenge on Lewis Vaughan was deemed worthy of the game’s first yellow card by referee Craig Charleston.
Despite Airdrie’s initial supremacy, it was Rovers who should have opened the scoring after twenty minutes. Following a corner, the ball fell to Liam Buchanan six yards out. The striker, with his back to goal, spun and with the home fans on their feet stabbed his shot the wrong side of the post. Despite this, Airdrie were soon back on the offensive, though Ross Brown’s shot failed to seriously test Lennox.
Kieran MacDonald then drew a fine diving save from Lennox, before Rovers, on a rare venture forward, created a half chance for Furtado whose shot was easily gathered by Rohan Ferguson.
The feeling was that Airdrie’s pressure would eventually tell, and sure enough, with three minutes remaining before half time, they took the lead. A free-kick was lofted into the penalty area, and hesitation in the home defence allowed Dale Carrick to steer a towering header into the roof of the net beyond Lennox.
In truth, it was the least Airdrie deserved, and as the players headed for the dressing rooms it was clear Rovers manager Barry Smith’s team talk would be an important one.
As it transpired, to say that Rovers’ fortunes took a turn for the better in the second half would be the understatement of the season. The home side looked more positive, and began to slowly push their opponents up the pitch. Smith made his first substitution with 53 minutes on the clock and it was an inspired change, with Liam Buchanan making way for Scott Robertson, which enabled Vaughan to push forward into the role of striker.
Murray and Vaughan both had efforts at goal, before a bout of handbags at dawn between Barr and an Airdrie defender resulted in a melee involving every outfield player and yellow cards for the two initial protagonists.
With just over an hour played, Rovers restored the parity their more adventurous second half play merited. The danger appeared to be over following another foray into the Airdrie box, but, not untypically, Furtado wasn’t about to give up on the cause. The forward, standing on the edge of the penalty box, swept a left foot shot goalwards, and the ball appeared to take a deflection before evading Ferguson and landing in the net.
Rovers’ tails were well and truly up now, and within a minute they almost went ahead. John Herron’s shot was parried by Ferguson, and the in-rushing Zanatta blasted his shot into the side net.
However, with fifteen minutes remaining, Rovers scored a second, ultimately match-winning strike. In a sweeping move down the left hand side an astute pass from Scott Robertson picked out Furtado, who in turn fed Zanatta. The young Canadian produced a dangerous low cross into the box which was turned into the net with the minimum of fuss by Vaughan.
Airdrie made two quick substitutions in a bid to quell the tide, and Rovers responded by replacing Bobby Barr with Ross Matthews in order to shore up the midfield area.
Airdrie pushed forward, but Rovers were in no mood to concede any ground having worked so hard to turn the match around. Herron was cautioned for refusing to return the ball at a free-kick, before Furtado and Vaughan came close to extending the home side’s lead before the final whistle sounded, bringing an epic encounter to a close.
This was a huge three points for Rovers, a win which presents an eight point gap at the top, effectively leaving the Honest Men in second place with little margin of error.
It was the proverbial game of two halves and Rovers displayed spirit, guile and skill aplenty to turn a possible defeat into a stupendous win.
This may yet prove to be a pivotal win as far as the destiny of this season’s League One title is concerned, but whatever the case, Barry Smith’s men will surely head to Coatbridge next weekend brimming with confidence.
© Eddie Doig 2018
Barry was pleased with the performance against Airdrie
After stretching their lead at the top of the League One table to five points thanks to their 3-1 win over Albion Rovers, Raith have the opportunity to increase it yet further this Saturday, when Airdrieonians are the visitors to Stark’s Park.
With Ayr United in Scottish Cup action against Rangers on Sunday, a Rovers victory over the Diamonds would see the gap moving to eight points, although that won’t be straightforward against Stephen Findlay’s side, who are buoyed, both new ownership, and new additions via the transfer window.
Airdrie have lost just once in their last nine fixtures, while no fewer than seven new faces have headed to North Lanarkshire in January.
Jordan McGregor has signed permanently, after leaving Hamilton following a loan-spell at the club, while forwards Darryl Duffy and Dale Carrick have signed up from St Mirren and Livingston respectively, the former on a loan-deal.
Goalkeeper, Willie Muir has been acquired after he left Queen’s Park, while midfielder Ross Brown has joined after he left also left the Livingston.
Bolstering the back-line is two further loan-deals, with Chris Higgins joining from Brechin, and Daniel Higgins from Kilmarnock.
Even without those reinforcements, Rovers have toiled against Airdrie this term, although they have taken four from the six points available.
The first meeting in September ended in a 2-0 win for the Stark’s Park men, although it was a tight affair, with goals from Jason Thomson and Dario Zanatta coming in the final quarter-of-an-hour.
It was even closer in the next meeting in December, when the sides drew two each at the Excelsior Stadium.
Greig Spence had given Rovers a first-half advantage, but Jake Hastie and Cammy Russell gave the home side a deserved lead. However, an injury-time own-goal from Jordan McGregor salvaged a somewhat fortuitous point for Barry Smith’s men.
Rovers will be looking to take advantage of Airdrie’s poor away form, which has seen them pick up just nine points on their travels, the fewest in the division, and while the Diamonds currently sit seventh, a win on Saturday could potentially rekindle their hopes of a playoff berth.
Rovers have a good recent record in this fixture, with five wins and three draws from the last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Craig Charleston
Head-To-Head Home League Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 6 | Airdrie Wins: 2 | Draws: 3
Raith Rovers Goals: 11 | Airdrie Goals: 6
Raith Rovers: W-D-L-D-W-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 19 | Greig Spence 13 | Liam Buchanan 11
Airdrie: Willis Furtado 6 | Cammy Russell 5
Raith Rovers: 1/2 | Airdrie: 17/5 | Draw: 21/4